At a press conference Wednesday morning in Raleigh, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and NC Justice Center announced that twenty-five plaintiffs from across the state filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court this morning challenging the constitutionality of the school voucher law passed by the General Assembly last session.
The “vouchers” (messaged to be called “Opportunity Scholarships”) are only available to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and at $4,200.00 could help upper middle class families over the hump in affording private school tuition. Those families, however, would be disqualified from receiving the “voucher”. The program will cost the state of North Carolina around $10 million the first year.
In Forsyth County only one private school that would speak to CCD on this issue said they would accept students on an “opportunity” scholarship. That school was Salem Baptist Christian High School whose principal (and Forsyth County Commissioner) Mark Baker said that they would have no problem accepting the students who qualify. It should be noted that, with how low tuition and fees at Salem Baptist Christian School are, qualifying working class families could send their children to Salem on a “voucher”. Summit School pointed out that they already offer such scholarships and would not necessarily be accepting “voucher” students. Forsyth Country Day said they would wait and see and other private schools did not want to comment on record.
Private schools accepting voucher students are not required to be accredited; their teachers are not required to be certified. There are also issues lurking about private schools whose policies discriminate essentially receiving tax-dollar funding. These private schools accepting public money through the voucher program will not be obliged to follow any particular curriculum.
The plaintiffs in the law suit include educational leaders such as former Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Ward and former Shaw University president John Lucas, as well as parents, teachers, members of the clergy and other community leaders.
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators and one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, said “vouchers” will siphon money from public schools at a time when they are trying to educate a growing number of students with a budget that is being slashed by the North Carolina legislature.
“Vouchers for private schools are an affront to a state that has a long and cherished history of public education,” said Ellis, a teacher from Winston-Salem with two children still in the public school system. “Using public money to pay for private schools is part of a broad assault on public schools — and on the constitution of our state.”
Melinda Lawrence, executive director of the N.C. Justice Center, said the “vouchers” are a clear violation of the state constitution’s mandate that state revenues for public education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”
“The North Carolina Constitution could not be more explicit,” Lawrence said. “Public monies are to be used only for free public schools. Period. That is the heart of our legal challenge.”